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Chattanooga Public Library, TN
Innovation SummaryThe library partnered with local organizations to promote the library as a resource to politicians and civic activists. The library used the Creative Citizenship program series to expose politicians and their constituents to library innovations. The library was reframed as a place for action rather than a place for contemplation.
While public libraries are uniquely positioned as neutral community spaces, it is uncommon that they actively promote this resource to politicians and civic activists. Going into the most recent local elections, research showed that there are approximately 109,000 registered voters in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and nearly 43,000 are under the age of 40. Having just opened The 4th Floor space as a community collaboration laboratory with services targeting this same demographic, we saw an opportunity to partner with other local organizations to address this problem. In addition, this was an opportunity to bring both politicians and their constituents into the library so that they could be exposed to the innovations and sweeping changes we are making.
Creative Citizenship was a program series designed to expand the voices in local government conversations, and re-energize a population around the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. The Library and AIGA Chattanooga, the local chapter of the internationally recognized design professionals’ association, developed this series of innovative events focused on civic involvement in the city's March municipal elections. The first event was "Register This!" a voter registration drive and poster design rally; an informal gathering where citizens could register to vote while participating in a process designed to activate them as agents for the participatory, democratic cause. The second event was a candidate forum and design fest. The 2013 city council candidates discussed and responded to questions about their plans and strategies to open dialogue with the community. Following the forum, attendees brainstormed and developed ideas and techniques to build a better relationship with local government. The event culminated in a hands-on design fest where "Get Out And Vote" posters were created, printed, and distributed around the city. The keynote event, "We Helped Obama Win," featured an evening with the lead designer and developer from Obama For America (OFA) campaign. Josh Higgins and Daniel Ryan, two key players in the success of the much discussed OFA fundraising campaign, impressed the crowd with their tales of the demanding work environment and the passion and commitment of the campaign design staff. Ryan, a resident of Chattanooga, was Director of Front-end Development while Higgins, was Design Director for the re-election campaign. For Chattanooga’s creative citizens in attendance, Higgins and Ryan were an inspiration for their mastery of craft, and how they applied their skills to influence a political outcome.
Creative Citizenship was innovative not only because it was an exceptional programming series, but also because it channeled the attention of key political players toward the library as an indispensable, relevant, energetic community resource. By designing the series as experiences attendees were part of, Creative Citizenship reframed the library as a place for action rather than a place for contemplation. Next time any City Councilperson that took part in the public forum is asked about the library, they will have a clear image of why the public library is a service they must support.